Sunday Observer Online


Sunday, 3 July 2011





Marriage Proposals
Government Gazette

Bathiya Sumithraarachchi's noble mission in Samsara:

Caring for the Jaya Sri Maha Bodhi

A young scientist stepped into the President’s private residence, Breamer at Ward Place in the early hours of May 20, 1985. The Head of State, clad in green pyjamas, welcomed the guest right on time.

"Take a seat, young man", the President said in a stern voice.

He went on questioning the young scientist who looked so confident. "You are trying to take a great risk. Do you know the danger of what you are trying to do?", he asked again looking at the young man seriously over his glasses.

"Yes, Sir. I am well aware of what I am going to do. I only need your permission to go ahead", the scientist said, explaining the facts in the two reports he had presented including the findings of the soil experts and an account of how he was to carry out the daunting task. Assuring the President of its success, the scientist told him of the urgency.

After carefully listening to his explanation, the President warned him, “Don't forget that you are taking a great risk. If something happened to the tree, the Buddhists of this country will be greatly offended. If you are so confident I will support you, but you have to be sure of its success”, he said.

At last the late President Junius Richard Jayewardene gave the final nod to 're-pot' the world's oldest recorded historical tree-the sacred Sri Maha Bodhi in 1985. The young scientist – the former Director of the Botanical Gardens of Peradeniya Bathiya Sumithraarachchi recalled how he took a great risk to make the tree more healthy.

“It took one and a half years to test the soil suitable for the Bodhin Wahanse (a term of respect). Sri Lanka's best soil expert at the time, Dr. Chris Panabokke, after testing several soil samples, recommended soil from Anuradhapura.


The Jaya Sri Maha Bodhi is a sapling from the historic Bo tree under which the Buddha attained Enlightenment. It was planted in 288 BC and is said to be the southern branch of the Sri Maha Bodhi at Bodh Gaya in India.

In the thrird century BC, the Bo sapling was brought to Sri Lanka by Theri Sangamitta, daughter of Emperor Asoka, and was planted in the Mahameghavana Park in Anuradhapura by King Devanampiyatissa.

Bathiya Sumithraarachchi

Sumithraarachchi, who had returned from England, after his post-graduate studies at the University of Reading was asked to take care of the Sri Maha Bodhi in 1983. He had specialised in caring for old trees and studied pruning, re-pruning and handling accidental breakdown of branches at the Kew Gardens. He decided to dig nine feet deep into the Upper Maluwa (substratum) to check the soil structure of the tree. He found that the distinctive layers of soil were incorporated in 1937 and felt the need for re-soiling the substratum.

Sumithrarachchi, who regularly treated the tree for various ailments including insect and fungal attacks, took the bold decision of fertilising the Bo tree as it was already showing signs of 'stress' and 'sickness' frequently.

He first informed the late Chief Incumbent of the Jaya Sri Maha Bodhi Ven. Pallegama Gnanaratana Thera. “He called the Atamastana Committee, the then District Minister K.D.M.C. Bandara and the Government Agent and asked me to explain the need for re-soiling the substratum. I explained that the Sri Maha Bodhi, after every defoliation and new flush, had an increased number of dead branches and that it was time to provide more nutrients for the tree. They approved the task, but stressed the need to seek the consent of President Jayewardene”, Sumithraarachchi said.

Protection from elements

The Uda Maluwa, 35 feet by 55 feet, is 35 feet above the ground. The wall was constructed during the reign of King Kirthi Sri Rajasingha, to protect it from wild elephants. The late Ven. Pallegama Rewatha Thera had planted the Pariwara Bo trees (accompanying Bo trees) to camouflage the Bodhi to protect it from 'ruthless' humans such as Appuhamy and to safeguard it from natural disasters such as strong winds and rains.

Appuhamy, who had pretended to be a lunatic, tried to cut a branch of the sacred Bo tree under the influence of certain parties years ago. There was no fence around the Uda Maluwa then; later the authorities erected an iron fence, but in 1960 the 'Ranweta' (gold-plated fence) was erected to protect the tree. “However, I found that the Pariwara Bodhiya was absorbing all the nutrients. So I put a concrete wall underneath to prevent its roots from coming near the sacred tree. The Sri Maha Bodhi needed a proper nutrient supply”, Sumithraarachchi said.

The sacred Bo tree cannot be fertilised with chemicals and methods used in other plants cannot also be used. “Because the tree is very old and sensitive, we cannot expose it to everything and anything. The best treatment should be natural”, he said.

All were ready for the historic event. In this tedious re-soiling process, first, he collected 40 lorryloads of soil from the recommended terrains, where Bo trees grew naturally in the Anuradhapura district.

“The soil loads were kept in a Dana Sala for fumigation. As the tree was old, I did not want to use soil with pathogens from outside as it might affect the tree. I got the assistance of the Head of the Fumigation Unit of the Department of Agriculture, Dr. Jinasiri to fumigate the soil, which was exposed to methyl bromide for three days. Then the soil samples were tested at the Peradeniya Botanical Gardens.

“The team including soil expert Gangodawila kept in constant touch with Dr. Panabokke during the re-soiling process. Once the ground work was completed, Sumithraarachchi's secret plan on re-soiling the Bo tree was commenced on May 30, 1985. At 6.00 am, the auspicious time set by the Chief Incumbent Thera, the first soil was taken out.

“I dug the base in sections without using any utensils as they would damage the roots. The washed soil was drained through a small fixed pump and re-filled with the treated and tested soil. We worked from dawn to dusk continuously for five days to re-soil two sections. But the team had to stop work due to unexpected heavy rain”, he said.


Opening of the second section of soil was carried out after six months. During the first six months after re-soiling, the strange behaviour of the Bo tree, which was heavy with fruit, upset Sumithraarachchi as he knew that trees bear fruit when they are disturbed. “This is where they go through the shock stage and say 'let me produce more before something happens to me'.

“However, I was confident that nothing would happen to this sacred tree as we did not use any artificial material in the re-soiling process. I had only inserted a few tubes during the re-soiling to treat the tree in an emergency. However, everything went smoothly as the Bo tree underwent natural healing.

“In fact, we got lots of seeds to plant more Bo trees”, Sumithraarachchi said adding that he was a little excited as he remembered the warning given by President Jayewardene.

After two years of successfully completing the mission, President Jayewardene, who inaugurated the National Tree Planting Program in September 19, 1987, complimented him for his success in re-potting the sacred Jaya Sri Maha Bodhi.

“I am happy as I am looking after the world's most sacred tree. This is my mission in Samsara and the merit should go to my parents who gave me a good education. Today, the Bo tree is very healthy and is a living legend,” Sumithraarachchi, who also rehabilitated and looks after the Bo trees in Bellanwila, Kalutara, Kataragama and many other places said.

Can the sacred Jaya Sri Maha Bodhi predict the future of the country?

“Yes, trees are biological entities and they do feel. They are like any other living organism and feel affection. They respond to people who have affection for them. I speak to the tree but not with words, I look at it and it gives me indications.”

He said the Bo tree gives indications through its defoliation pattern. Two weeks before the tsunami, the walls around the Pahala Maluwa collapsed without a reason. Many believe in the miracles of the Bo tree and there have been proven incidents.

Many sick people on the verge of death have survived after pirith chanting was carried out near the Bo tree.

According to Sumithraraachchi, the miraculous power of the sacred Sri Maha Bodhi cannot be imagined or expressed. Before the final defeat of terrorism, the tree’s output was “brilliant”.

All Sri Lankan Heads of State, from the late Prime Minister Sirimavo Bandaranaike to President Mahinda Rajapaksa, have sought the blessings of the Sri Maha Bodhi before commencing any important work. “As Sri Lankans we should be proud as we own the original Sri Maha Bodhi. President Rajapaksa is always blessed as he is a firm believer in the Bo tree”, he said.

The Sri Maha Bodhi which always indicated the good times of the country, started growing in a healthy and beautiful way since President Rajapaksa first contested the Presidential election. Sumithraarachchi met the President in 2004 (when he was the Prime Minister) when the latter visited the Bo tree to pay homage.

Sumithraarachchi, who visits the Sri Maha Bodhi twice a month, said since it was re-potted to enrich the soil condition, the tree had not suffered any fungal or insect attacks and it has adopted well to the climatic conditions of the Dry Zone.

“I feel very proud and lucky as I have been taking care of the Bodhi for over 30 years”, Sumithraarachchi, the ‘tree surgeon’ of the Sri Maha Bodhiya, said. His only wish is to be the ‘tree surgeon’ of the 2,247 year-old sacred Bo-tree in his next birth too.


LANKAPUVATH - National News Agency of Sri Lanka
Telecommunications Regulatory Commission of Sri Lanka (TRCSL)
Donate Now |

| News | Editorial | Finance | Features | Political | Security | Sports | Spectrum | Montage | Impact | World | Obituaries | Junior | Magazine |


Produced by Lake House Copyright © 2011 The Associated Newspapers of Ceylon Ltd.

Comments and suggestions to : Web Editor